It wasn’t long after smartphones showed up on the wireless scene that retailers saw their potential. Smartphones are basically miniature, hand-held computers, so why shouldn’t users be able to access just about everything on their phones that they can access on their desktops or laptops? In addition to making and taking phone calls, smartphone users listen to music, watch videos, read books, check e-mail, and ever more frequently, shop. A handful of mobile coupon Web sites have popped up and grown over the last couple of years, but now retailers are making an effort to contact, and entice shoppers more directly with mobile coupons. It makes sense that the first stores to jump on the mobile coupon bandwagon would be discount retailers. Last year, Walmart launched an iPhone app (iTunes will open) just in time for the holiday shopping season. It allows user to search for nearby stores, for products, and to browse several product categories. But it’s an outright shopping app, not a mobile coupon app, although Walmart would probably argue their prices are already so low, you don’t need any coupons. They may change that opinion now that Target has released a mobile coupon service. Target has made store coupons available to consumers through a combination of text messages and a special mobile access Web site. Shoppers opt into the service either by signing up on the mobile site, or by texting the word “COUPONS” to 827438. Target will then send the user text messages with links to that special site, which displays a few featured specials found in stores. Along with the sale listings, a bar code is displayed, with instructions telling the cashier to scan the bar code right on the phone’s screen. If, for some reason, that doesn’t work, the bar code can be entered manually. New coupons are issued on a monthly basis, and old coupons disappear from the site as they expire. The great thing about Target’s program is that it can be accessed by any phone with a mobile browser, regardless of brand or wireless carrier. Many other stores besides Walmart have launched apps, a good portion of them for the iPhone and iPod Touch. But by making their sale information accessible in this manner, Target has the potential to bring in many more customers than any store that offers an app that only works on one or two devices. Now that Target has proved it can be done, it’s surely only a matter of time before other retailers follow suit. In the meantime, you can find mobile coupons at other sites like Cellfire, Coupon Sherpa, and MobileCoupons.com.